by Sarah Robinson
Plot: Catapulted into a premature grave due to an inoperable brain tumor, a young woman bonds with her family and fulfills her wish to die with dignity. Euthanasia, a legally prohibited method of ending terminal illness in most states, propels this tragic story into a moral spotlight.
Prose/Style: At the heart of this poignant novel is physician-assisted suicide, a contested moral issue that manifests itself at every opportunity throughout the narrative. Thought-provoking and inherently mournful, words flow like confessional teardrops from an infinite fountain of sadness.
Originality: Frank discussions of death appear in commercial as well as literary works of fiction, and the final phase of the human experience depicted in this novel deals a heavy blow to the psyche. Medical descriptions, graphic personal details, and straightforward reactions to physical deterioration can be found in countless books.
Character Development: A terminally ill woman is the protagonist in this touching portrayal of a cancer patient losing her battle with the disease. Heartbreaking, with a message for those who suffer, each page renders the heroine more real, allowing an intimate look at a beautiful life ending too soon.
by Beau North
Plot: This is a compelling and well-paced story, and it would have been ten times stronger had it not been filtered through the lens of the "Pride and Prejudice" universe. Putting the "Pride and Prejudice" characters into another era is already a dicey proposition, but to cast Elizabeth Bennet in a love story with anyone other than Darcy is playing with fire.
Prose/Style: This sprawling family epic manages to pack several generations of a huge extended family into four hundred pages and dozens of subplots, but the details never feel overwhelming or hard to parse thanks to the author's polished, confident prose.
Originality: This is a plot formula, and a time period, that has been done before in hundreds of novels, and again, the purposeless "Pride and Prejudice" allegory does it no favors. Still, arcs like Georgina Darcy's forbidden romance with a Jewish factory worker and the story of Ben's unorthodox parentage lend freshness.
Character Development: While some supporting characters feel slightly wooden, most are nuanced, and their evolution is well-paced and believable. Some reveals feel deliberately withheld for dramatic effect, but for the most part, the rich backstories of both Ben and his father ring true.
by Marc Krulewitch
Plot: By focusing on a cannabis farmer, Krulewitch provides an immediately compelling premise, following through with unexpected developments and insights into the commodification of marijuana and the resulting conflicts.
Prose/Style: The prose is stylistically frank and sparse. The author's ability to convey emotion and depth while maintaining cohesiveness and concision, is no short of impressive.
Originality: The real originality in the novel lies not in this novel's actual plot--there is a vast library of books about bootleg drugs. Here, though, Krulewitch offers electric storytelling and a host of dynamic characters, allowing for familiar topics to feel new again.
Character Development: As with the prose rating, the novel is particularly strong here, with the flawed characters being both likable and unlikable at once, neither savior nor destroyer entirely, and always someone the reader can truly relate to. The characters speak with organic and realistic language, with their own sense of humor and agency. In this sense, Krulewitch is particularly gifted in both writing and world-building.
by R. D. Kardon
Plot: In “Flygirl,” Kardon tells a straightforward story about one woman aspiring to fulfill her professional dreams, as she grapples with overwhelming regrets and loss. While the nuances of Tris’s path toward becoming a plane captain can be banal, interpersonal conflicts and the heroine’s clear aspirations result in a satisfying narrative arc.
Prose/Style: Kardon writes in even, pragmatic prose that efficiently—if unremarkably—carries the story forward to its conclusion.
Originality: Though the story of a professional woman struggling to succeed in a male-dominated field is a familiar one, Kardon shows a clear understanding of the world of commercial airlines and effectively captures the unique experience of operating an aircraft.
Character Development: Kardon creates a relatable heroine in Tris, a character who, along with her grit and determination to succeed, displays a range of authentic emotions and vulnerabilities. Additional characters—including patronizing and dysfunctional colleagues—are portrayed with less subtlety.
by James Schannep
Plot: This book has three storylines and more than 50 endings. Does the reader, as a character, wish to survive or die? The choices are quite endless, but the plot itself is a bit thin. Some of the segments may be used in more than one story.
Prose/Style: The writing is fluid, with occasional grammatical errors that would be alleviated by a light proofread. The use of archaic and current seafaring terms helps put the reader into the scene.
Originality: Certainly, this is extremely clever and quite a feat in the way the endings and beginnings are organized.
Character Development: While the characters are colorful, they are somewhat stereotypical of ship's captains and mates and of pirates. They partake in some bawdy activities and sometimes speak coarsely. They are quite one-dimensional, and the reader doesn't get to know them intimately.
by W. B. Edwards
Plot: The plot itself is engaging, and the final twist is satisfying to read. The story’s twist, while gripping, appears fairly late in the book, and isn’t affirmed until the very last chapter of the novel.
Prose/Style: The dialogue reads very realistically – especially the exchanges between the children, Lonnie and Nell. Edwards is clearly attuned to her characters’ voices. The sentences, however, can be long-winded, sometimes without proper punctuation to break up the excess of clauses. An overuse of articles and transitional words (“so,” “and,” “but,” etc.) make it difficult to follow the action of each scene.
Originality: This is a general storyline that many fans of the thriller/mystery genre will recognize. With a bit more fine-tuning of character perspectives – expanding on specific psychologies, personal hang-ups, and idiosyncrasies – Edwards can develop the story’s originality even more.
Character Development: The text doesn’t seem to be rooted in one specific person’s perspective. The third-person omniscient narration grazes the surface of many characters’ POVs at once, failing to delve deeply into any detailed thoughts and musings.
by Holly Harbin
Plot: While the plot has interesting elements, so many different elements seem to be competing for the center stage: There is the front story of the relic and Alice, then her relationship with her husband and her secret pregnancy, then the backstory of his family. While it does coalesce, overall it still feels a bit too widespread to truly come together. Readers might have a difficult time parsing out the key elements of the narrative.
Prose/Style: The prose is a bit old-fashioned, even twee at times, which rubbed the wrong way. It almost sounded older than it needed to be, and while it’s certainly trying to emulate a time period, readers might be too distracted by the antiquated language to really get invested in the characters and plot.
Originality: This is definitely an original story for most readers today, thanks to the narration; that said, it does introduce questions into the plot that are distracting, such as how the narrator knew all of the information and backstory they did, and why exactly such large portions of each section were dedicated to sharing it.
Character Development: The characters in this story could use some more dimension to be believable - this could be due to the detached narration (characters are repeatedly introduced as “the man” or “the woman,” which makes it difficult to connect or picture them), or their dialogue, which often feels forced.
by Robert Trebor
Plot: The plot here is succinct. Its division between the experiences of Donald D. Rump and Vladimir Poutine drives the narrative forward. However, the overall delivery of events, though based on some real-life happenings, may not elicit the comedic effect desired.
Prose/Style: While the piece was quite short, Trebor’s prose was developed and easy to follow. The use of dialogue and exposition was integrated throughout, though perhaps heavier on the dialogue end. Frequency of dialogue exchange was not overly distracting, however, but rather helped move the story to its conclusion.
Originality: Trebor’s satirical piece is based on real events in some cases, which made this lack in originality in terms of events or plot. However, his imaginings of conversations and events were original and innovative.
Character Development: Characterization was presented well overall. Dialogue, exposition, and style worked together to equip each main character with distinct qualities, ways of speaking, and mannerisms. However, the minor characters were not very distinct from one another. This did not detract too much from reading the piece, however. An element that could be improved upon is creating empathy between reader and characters. Developing that aspect could make this a stronger piece that resonates better with readers.
by C.M. Harris
Disqualified due to word count under 30,000.